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How Arkansas Children’s Health System Adopted a Retail-Focused Mindset

by Sara Foster | Nov 18, 2019

This article was written by Jessica Levco, a healthcare writer who covered HCIC19 for Greystone.Net. photo of a small female child with a tablet

Arkansas Children’s Health System is the only children’s hospital in the state. A few years ago, C-suite executives wondered: “If we’re the only ones…why do we need to market our hospital?”

Oh, man.

Luckily, after new leadership and a retailed-focused marketing strategy, the mindset shifted dramatically.

At the 23rd annual Greystone.net Healthcare Internet conference in Orlando, Stephanie Pierce, director of marketing technology at Arkansas Children’s Health System, talked about the transformational changes she helped lead. She was joined by Carla Bryant, executive vice president of Corrigan Consulting.

First, Corrigan Consulting did a thorough assessment of what was happening inside the marketing department. They noticed several problems.

Like many hospitals, the marketing team was too focused on being a service bureau — everybody was asking for something and the team delivered, without a strategy. There wasn’t a lot of planning. And their two videographers spent a lot of time solving printer issues and setting up LCD projectors in conference rooms.

This meant they needed to restructure the whole team. They started with a 16-person marketing team. Now, 13 of those people are either new hires or earned new positions and titles.

“It was a group of talented people, anxious to do great work and excited about their new roles,” Bryant says.

But one new hire gave Bryant pause. And that person was her co-presenter.

Bryant admitted she was skeptical of the decision to hire Pierce. She didn’t have a healthcare background or experience in a senior leadership role. But here’s what Pierce had: A background in e-commerce and digital marketing for a Fortune 500 company.

“I knew the technology,” Pierce says. “I’m very agile. And coming from sales, we always looked at our numbers each day and tried to figure out how to tweak it for the next day. I brought a sense of urgency and adaptability to the team.”

Bryant agreed (and now, couldn’t be happier with Pierce). With Pierce’s retail background, the new approach was to focus on the consumer. That meant being digital-savvy, creating easy access and personalizing as many touchpoints as they could. Here’s how they’ve been able to do just that:

  • Getting organized. The team created an Excel sheet that listed out all their tactics and campaigns that were running, along with how much money was spent on each one.
  • Time for coffee. Pierce met with leaders from other departments frequently for lunch and coffee, to build relationships and gain buy-in with new marketing plans. She also sent thank-you notes.
  • Easy RFP. Now, the process takes between 8 and 10 weeks. They’ve eliminated “vendors” and only work with “partners.” In one year, they eliminated 21 vendors.
  • Retail vocabulary words. “We talk about the marketing funnel,” Pierce says. “Sometimes, people just think that marketing can pull a lever and instant volume happens. But when we talk about what the patient is going through when they make a decision — and their journey — that gives people more perspective.”
  • It’s OK to make mistakes. Pierce created a culture where it’s OK to make marketing mistakes. “That’s how we learn,” she says.
  • Educate everyone. She leads regular educational programming about SEO, marketing technology and influencer marketing to various hospital groups. “We want to elevate the digital savviness of everyone in the hospital,” Pierce says.
  • Simplify your message to physicians. Bryant shared the story of how physicians would tell her that they loved their hospital billboard — and that their family, friends and current patients did, too. She would ask them, “How many new patients called you, directly because of that billboard?” When the doctor said zero, she would explain, “The purpose of marketing is to drive new patients to patients. Let’s talk about ways where we can get you new business.”
  • HCIC19
  • healthcare internet conference
  • carla bryant
  • Stephanie Pierce
  • Arkansas Children's Health System
  • marketing strategy

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